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With the Call of Duty franchise, I’m one of those players that dibble and dabble with it. I understand why it’s popular and the formula can still sell many years later. In recent years, I did review Ghosts being sorely disappointed with it and skipped Advanced Warfare despite it bringing the series back to track. This year it’s Treyarch back at the helm with Call of Duty: Black Ops III and the multiplayer beta has been out on Playstation 4 the past week. Originally it was a pre-order incentive, but Treyarch fortunately opened the beta to everyone last weekend and extended it to the end tonight at 10 pm PST. After playing the beta for numerous hours, Black Ops III multiplayer is missing it’s own identity and Call of Duty feels like it’s still trying to catch up with other ideas shooters have implemented the past couple years.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III multiplayer in a nutshell is a mix of Destiny, Titanfall and Advanced Warfare. Yes, it’s still fundamentally Call of Duty gameplay-wise as it plays and feels just as you expect for the successful franchise, but it jumbles up ideas that worked in recent shooters into one game. It’s definitely a double-edged sword of sorts. The mobility boom that Titanfall started in first-person shooters is still in it’s prime, but Black Ops III so far doesn’t feel like it’s making evolutionary steps that Advanced Warfare made to the series to continue the boom. The specialists remind me of Destiny and Mass Effect 3’s co-op with characters that have their own signature weapon or ability to bring into the fold. There’s some balancing issues with some of them already, but it’s a beta so we’ll see if Treyarch will make the adjustments for the final version.
Among the specialists I saw the most was the Outrider. Her special weapon is the Sparrow, a bow that has exploding arrows (similar to the Torque Bow from the Gears of War series for comparison) while her special ability is the Vision Pulse, where it works like an UAV for a short distance being able to paint enemies red on the battlefield. Ruin and Prophet were the specialists I used the most however. Ruin’s Gravity Spikes is the Titan ground pound attack from Destiny and Prophet has a charged weapon that can enemies for multiple kills as well as his Glitch ability where he can rewind to a previous location in the map. The Nomad can revive himself with his Rejack ability, but it’s usually not wise to do it in the open when you can easily get shot again. I personally find the special abilities for the specialists more useful than their special weapons because it buffs up stats for yourself and some help out your team. The special weapons have a time limit and if you die using it, you lose it till get your special meter back.
The level progression along with the Black Ops staple Pick 10 system returns with limited slots for your equipment and perks. A balanced approach is still the way to go with one or two gun attachments and grenades, but of course you can go knife & grenades only with tons of perks or your primary gun being full of extra attachments if that’s your playstyle. There are some standout guns already like the Razorback SMG, but the weapon balancing has been solid so far. Every time you level up, you get an unlock token to spend on weapons, specialists, perks, scorestreaks and more. Each primary and secondary weapon has it’s own level progression system where getting points with that gun unlocks attachments. As of this time, the beta cap is at level 49 but the PS4 version of this beta ends tonight. I’m pretty sure Treyarch will undergo a similar schedule for the Xbox One and PC betas that start on Wednesday (or as early as tomorrow if the PS4 beta is any indication).
Scorestreaks also remain unchanged for the most part in Call of Duty: Black Ops III. The standard UAV, airstrikes, carpet bombs and drones are still there, but there’s also some unique ones as well. The R.A.P.S. send out rolling bombs that explode on impact for example. Good thing it’s not just consecutive kills to get you these streak bonuses as it’s consecutive general score. I still wished there was a support streak option from past games, but that’s not much of a Treyarch thing for the series. As standard for Call of Duty multiplayer, once a team gets going with scorestreaks, it’s easy to get a big lead and win matches.
I spent more time with the popular modes Team Deathmatch & Domination in this beta even though Kill Confirmed, Search & Destroy, Capture the Flag and Uplink are playable as well. Four maps are also playable with Stronghold being added later on in the beta. The maps themselves are fine and there’s always gonna be moments when the spawns won’t work in your favor especially in Domination games. I haven’t had many issues with the spawns, but at least it’s better than the last time I spent a lot of time playing Call of Duty multiplayer, which was Ghosts.
While I’m having fun with the Call of Duty: Black Ops III multiplayer beta, the game doesn’t feel like a significant evolution for the series so far. Sure, Advanced Warfare last year was the big evolutionary step the series needed, but I hoped Treyarch can build on that momentum that Sledgehammer Games started. Instead, Black Ops III is just a solid shooter with a lack of originality. From the specialists concept reminding me of Destiny and the mobility options of Titanfall and Advanced Warfare (well not all of that game), it’s full of ideas from other games cobbled up into this one. We’ll see how the campaign and zombies fare when the game comes out on November 6th, but I’m sure Call of Duty fans will be satisfied with Black Ops III. The PS4 beta ends tonight, but Xbox One and PC folks will have their turn this Wednesday to Sunday for now, assuming Treyarch will follow a similar schedule to this PS4 beta increasing the level cap and including more content.